Monday Memories: My life in cats

Pauleen in basket with kittenIn my daughter’s memory photo album I wrote “where there’s a Cass, there’s a cat”. Very true, but equally so of my own family as the various photos here will attest.

From my earliest days to today I’ve been without a cat for only a few short months – and felt myself off-kilter and at a loss. It’s not that I don’t like dogs, and as a child I’d often pester for one, but Mum was somewhat afraid of dogs. She didn’t greatly like cats either, but on that she was over-ruled. Mum preferred our blue budgie, called – wait for it – Bluey! He would sing away on the back landing and call in the wild birds.

I know that one of our cats had kittens at one stage and I suspect Dad had to drown the kittens in the creek (the way it was done in those days). He would have hated that, because he loved animals, almost more than (most) people.

Pauleen cats and kittens

Which cat had the kittens? Perhaps Tammy or Sooty.

ChippyOne of our cats, Chippy, used to walk down the street with mum and I when she went to ring her best mate in Townsville from the public phone box. I don’t recall how old I was when we got the phone on, but I would have been in my early teens, until then urgent calls came through our friends over the road – as a (railway) engine driver he needed the phone in case he was called in.

Many’s the time I would sneeze my way through Sunday Mass thanks to the cat being curled up beside me – I wasn’t going to let a minor allergy get in my cat-loving way.

One of the big attractions of Mr Cassmob when I first met him at uni was his love of cats – they had a white cat called Wizzle who’d splash in the puddles.

Valerie with Sooty and Tammy

This photo of a family friend with Sooty & Tammy would be about 1960.

After we married and moved to Alotau we acquired a female cat who we named Tabitha. She was a great leaper which was unfortunate given her predilection for catching large tropical butterflies. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up and find scattered butterfly wings on the floor, along with shredded tissues – the latter delivered by my in-laws’ daschund who we were minding. The locals were bemused how her ears would stand out in the wind when we drove along – Er wah, they’d say. Sanguma (magic) and they’d call Tinka “bat dog”.

Louisa in basket and Pedro Nth Goroka 1972

Daughter #1 with Pedro – echoes of the one above of me.

Tabitha excelled herself when she delivered her first litter of kittens. It was Anzac Day 1971, very early, when I woke up the technicolour image of a kitten being ejected right above my face. That was too much even for this cat lover! We left Tabitha and the rest of the kittens behind at the High School when the government decided we needed to be in Goroka “yesterday”, but we took one of the kittens, a handsome boy we called Pedro.

Some years later we suspect Pedro came to a sticky end and wound up either as a hat or in the cooking pot, given our home on the route to various villages and squatter settlements. The bossy neighbourhood cat, Brandi, had pushed him out. Ironically she was to become our next furry feline when her owners “went finish” (leave PNG). It was a common tradition to pass pets on, because in those days the quarantine period was very long -a year or more from recollection. In much the same way we acquired out cattle dog, Whisky, who loved going to the beach with us each weekend. We threatened to get a budgie and call it Rum.

Brandi was a beautiful cat and we all loved her to pieces. She nearly came to a sticky end too, when the neighbourhood dogs caught her one day. Luckily we were able to rescue her, and with lots of TLC she survived. Very sadly we had to have her put to sleep when we left Moresby as, post-Independence, we had fewer friends left still in Moresby, and they weren’t really cat people. We were all in tears and I still regret that we didn’t bring her home to be buried in the garden rather than leave her with the vets. I still worry that dastardly deeds may have been done to my gorgeous girl.

Our lovely Brandi cat

Brandi – our much loved cat in Port Moresby, PNG.

Whisky was handed on to our neighbours when we left, but soon after went off to join the man who had done our ironing. She’d been taken to a village when she was very tiny and had an obsession with Mackerel Pike so I guess she’d have fitted in okay. It was very tough leaving special furry friends behind when we had to leave.

DD1 again with Socks Xmas 1978 with last week's chair in the background and my crocheted poncho effort.

DD1 again with Socks Xmas 1978 with last week’s chair in the background and my crocheted poncho effort.

Around the time we decided to “go finish”, Mum and Dad had adopted three kittens whose mother was completely wild. They kept one, as our old cat Sooty had crossed the rainbow bridge sometime previously. Another was allocated to us, and became another firm favourite (aren’t they all?), Socks. One vet suggested that she may have been part-Burmese – she had a beautiful colouring and a lovely nature.  She had an attitude though, when it suited her. When Ginger Megs came into our lives she swatted him across the face and established who was boss of this household! She also took on a Doberman which wandered into our yard one day – she could be quite fearless. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to a ripe old age but died of cancer aged about 10 years. Another sad day for the Cass mob.

Meanwhile Ginger Megs aka Gemma (AM = ack emma hence GM = Gemma) had arrived. Had we known his temperament in advance we’d have named him Garfield as he was very cheeky…and large. He grew to be about 10kgs (22lbs) and was totally quirky – when he wanted you to get up, he’d bat things progressively off the bedside table. And an afternoon nap was an excuse to lie on your back. He got cancer and he too was put to sleep and also brought home to rest in the garden.

Kizzle and Ginger Megs

A very tiny Kizzle with her mate Ginger Megs.

Kizzle was “just a tabby tat” but was immediately part of our family. At age 10, she came to live with us in Darwin, and boy did she give us heaps about her experience on the 4 hour flight. She had a couple of grand adventures in the drama of the house being packed and us relocating, but those yarns are far too long for here. She got very old (18) and wasn’t well, and we dithered whether to have her put to sleep before we went away to Europe in 2006. Sadly, she deteriorated badly and it was our daughters who had to deal with it. She rests in our Darwin garden.

Kizzie does Family history 1

Kizzle keeps an eye on the family history progress.

Despite a promise to myself to take “time out”, my cat-addiction took hold and Springer joined us only a couple of months after we returned home. You can read about this king of our universe here, and the follow up here. And yes, it does seem that we have a trend towards tabby tats.

Springer and craft

Springer in Darwin after “sampling” decorations from the Christmas tree.

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A tribute to Sir Springer the cat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Get a pet, lose your heart”…perhaps that might replace the “a pet is not just for Christmas” slogan. We happily accept the exchange where we look after our pets’ needs and in return are given un-judgmental acceptance and affection. Cats are of course a different matter –if you’ve ever loved a cat you’ll know that there’s a fair bit of truth in the statement that cats have staff. Cat lovers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Helping Mum with Congress 2006 work.

Helping Mum with Congress 2006 work.

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All this work is just too tiring.

It wasn’t always an amiable relationship on his part, as Springer thought he belonged in the house and should take priority over mere small humans. It wasn’t uncommon to find him stubbornly sitting in the midst of the toys plainly making his residential status clear.

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They only think it’s their play tent…it’s mine as well.

As the other grandchildren have come along he’s often looked askance at them and retreated to a safe position away from them. On one or two occasions he’s given them a nip of warning to their dismay but despite that they too have been enamoured of him and have learned to watch his tail for impatient swishing. When they turn up on an unexpected day, and he seemed to have a good sense of when it was grandchild-day, he was known to give a very disapproving look at their temerity for disturbing his peace. At the end of each visit he would follow us all out to the gate, then roll on the driveway looking smug with a distinct attitude of “na, na, na..I live here, you don’t!”

Sometimes you just have to chill out!

Sometimes you just have to chill out!

As you can see, a cat of definite opinions! He’s never been a cuddle cat, tolerating only small doses of cuddles, but he always loved to be near us wherever we were. He was oh, so predictable in his habits: when breakfast was due (as soon as someone woke up), when it was time for an afternoon snack (between 4 and 5); when it was time to reluctantly come in at night (about 10pm) and when to annoy Mr Cassmob to let him out (the earlier the better from his point of view). When he wanted to come back in he would yodel loudly to get my attention and then need to be dried off if he’d been caught in a storm.

This is what we called his "mad eyes" look when he was fired up for mischief, including his tendency to kick himself in the ear...silly boy!

This is what we called his “mad eyes” look when he was fired up for mischief, including his tendency to kick himself in the ear…silly boy!

In short, his staff were perfectly trained, and in return he mostly did what we wanted. He accepted that when we went on long holidays he would have an excursion to his fancy cat resort complete with an enclosed aerial walkway where he could sun himself, a hammock to snooze on and his mummy rug brought from home. On the way there and back he would talk loudly and put his paw through his travelling cage, to be reassured. He knew full well the difference between the route to the resort and that to the vet, which generated a much louder conversation.

I wonder where they'll go on holidays next?

I wonder where they’ll go on holidays next? Among Mum’s family history papers in the study.

Within our complex he seemed to be popular especially with those who love animals but can’t have one for various reasons. He would trot around, fluffy Persian-like tail held high, looking like lord of all he surveyed. This earned him our aka of Mr Trotsky. His daily name, Springer, came from his youthful mischievous habit of leaping out and kung-fu-ing you at hip height as you walked by.

The most recent photo of him we have - in Pavlovian mode.

The most recent photo of him we have – in Pavlovian mode. Where are the mussels Dad?

Pavlov would have been impressed with him when he flew down the stairs at the smell of Thai food preparations, because after all, those activities and smells went with Thai Mussel fritters, and he liked nothing better. In fact on a recent occasion, when Thai was being prepared but not mussel fritters, we offered him freshly cooked prawns. From his response you’d have thought we offered him cat food, and the cheapest version at that! Our previous cats looooved prawns and for them we made a dish of prawns their last supper.

What are THEY doing here again? On an unexpected grandchildren visit.

What are THEY doing here again? On an unexpected grandchildren visit.

Ever neurotic, he was utterly terrified of strangers and was a better stranger-early-warning system than a watch dog. If you saw him fly up the stairs, belly to the ground, tail down, you could guarantee there was someone walking through the complex, and far too close to our unit. We ultimately concluded that he had perhaps come from a cat farm (something we hadn’t known about previously), as we could never quite get him past his fear of anyone other than family.

Now which one should come off next?

Now which one should come off next?

It was only last Christmas that his increasing maturity became evident and he resisted the temptation to climb the Xmas tree, and carefully (or madly!) remove the baubles as he’d done every other year. From time to time he’d indulge in fits of craziness flying up the stairs like a bat out of hell, doing wheelies with his legs spinning out from under him. Hilarious to watch.

Nearly two weeks ago Mr Springer disappeared from home and hasn’t been seen since. We’ve tried everything under the sun to find him but reluctantly we’re very slowly accepting we’re likely not to see him again.

We can’t (won’t?) accept that someone might have catnapped him for nefarious purposes because he was just too speedy to be caught. He doesn’t appear to have been hit by a car as no body has been found. We hope that if he has gone to cat heaven that it wasn’t too terrifying a trip for our little nervous Nellie, and think that being bitten by a snake or poisoned by cane toad, rather than attacked by the dingoes or wild dogs that are in the reserve across the road, are the likeliest possibilities.

Chilling out on his chair and his mummy rug (sarong)

Chilling out on his chair and his mummy rug (sarong)

They say it takes two weeks to create or break a habit, in which case we may soon stop looking for him everywhere and come to terms with his empty Ikea chair without his furry little face looking at us. We’ve found it surprisingly difficult to come to terms with his absence –there’s something much “cleaner” about eventually having to have a very ill cat put to sleep, than the everlasting wondering about what happened.

Through it all we’ve been so grateful for the kindness of friends, family and strangers who’ve responded to our distress. The take-home message from this experience is very much about the goodness and kindness of most people, and how much most people love their pets. We’ve also been so impressed by the people at the Top End Lost and Found who coordinate information on lost and found pets.

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Fab Feb Photo Collage: 2 Feb – Cats, Kittens, Maggie & Cyclones

4 x 7UP collageAnother of my photo favourites! I’m a huge devotee of cats and kittens and have been since I was a little girl, thanks to my father’s equal addiction. All my life we’ve shared our homes with one or more cats. Each one has a special place in my memory. When I was a child, one would always walk to the end of the street with us, and another would come all the way down a couple of blocks to the public phone booth.  Small wonder that Mr Cassmob also met this vital selection criterion for a future partner…neither of us can walk past a cat without saying hello and asking politely for a pat.pauleen norm at picnic bay

A man after my own heart

A man after my own heart

In this early photograph my father and I are in the back yard of the flats where we were holidaying at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island in 1956. Presumably the kittens just happened to be nearby and we couldn’t resist them. Magnetic Island was one of our semi-regular holiday places, partly because we could get there using Dad’s railway pass, and partly because my mother still had friends there, including her closest friend. I talked about my love for the place in the 52 weeks series.

But back to this particular holiday which has become part of our family’s folklore. You see while we were there in 1956 Cyclone Agnes came through and threatened to blow us all away. The flats were only fairly flimsy fibro buildings with corrugated iron roofs so we were certainly at risk. My most distinct memory is asking Dad to take me to the backyard toilet in the midst of the storm. Why on earth he was willing to do that I don’t know, because I’m sure I’d just have told my kids to use a bucket! I remember the palm trees bending in the wind, like ballerinas touching their toes. Dad always said that the wind gauges at the Garbutt Air Force base snapped in the strength of the wind which fits with the news stories of the day.

Afterwards we were trapped on the island for a few days and I’m told there were no fresh supplies of milk or bread. My memory says that we were evacuated by Army amphibious duck to Townsville but Mum doesn’t recall that at all, so did I imagine it? Soon after we trained up to Cairns where I have a vivid memory of the Barron Falls in full spate, and then travelled to Green Island where the seas were so rough I can still remember the boat dipping into the waves on each side. Story goes that only Dad and the engineer weren’t sick on the voyage. Everyone else was hanging over the side of the boat. Or, as Mum always said, “green on the way over and green coming back”.

R and L asleep at Magnetic Is

Many years later we would take our girls for a visit to Maggie, on a day that was much more tranquil.

On the return trip to Brisbane the Sunlander train waded across the flooded Burdekin River where the waters were lapping the sleepers on the bridge as we crossed. Dad used to say that the fireman pushed away a log that was up against the sleepers only to discover it was a crocodile. A tall tale or true? I don’t have a clue! Mind you, being a fellow railwayman, Dad ofter heard stories that weren’t shared with all the passengers.

Pauleen and cats c1960

Socks' mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

Socks’ mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

This post is dedicated to all my feline friends who’ve given me so much love and affection over the years: Chips, Tammy, Sooty, Tabitha, Pedro, Brandy, Socks, Ginger Megs, Kizzle and Springer. Each had their own distinct personality, but I could wish Springer, my current young furry-friend, would extend himself to a few more cuddles….maybe he’s still in that teenage phase where boys won’t cuddle their families <smile>.

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Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never found out if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never knew if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.